Friday, 4 September 2009

Doctor Who and the interpersonal dynamics.

One of the things RTD really got right when he brought back Doctor Who in 2005-ish -and the realisation that I was at university when 'new' Who started makes me feel really old. The fact that I am writing a blog on Doctor Who on a friday night should also make me feel old, but I prefer to chalk this one up to the fact that my hometown is a depressing place to be on a Friday night. It usually ends up with an angry mob bearing down on me with pitchforks and flaming torches. But I digress...

One of the things RTD really got right when he brought back Doctor Who was that the relationships between the recurring characters were absolutely crucial to the show's success. If the first TARDIS crew (Ian, Barbara, Susan and the Doctor) hadn't been so brilliantly set up - I don't think any companions since have ever had the same depth as Ian and Barbara - it's unlikely the series would have lasted a year, let alone twenty plus.

The show has had different dynamics between the Tardis crew over the years, some of which have worked better than others. I spend a lot of time bitching about what's wrong with Doctor Who over on Gallifrey Base so I don't want to go into which I felt didn't work - especially as most of the bad dynamics are ones that were so bland it isn't really even worth attempting withering scorn - but here is a very shortlist of the Doctor/Companion dynamics that really worked:

1. Ian, Barbara and The First Doctor.

The ruthless, amoral git who would quite happily cave a bloke's head in with a rock is gradually warmed up and taught humanity and heroism by a pair of intelligent grown-ups who are almost certainly shagging.

2. The Second Doctor and Jamie.

The warm hearted, child like genius with occasional flashes of a more sinister side loves hanging out with his equally childlike and endlessly admiring best friend.

3. The Third Doctor and the Brigadier.

A difficult one to sum up in a pithy sentence this; Two heroes, one a maverick genius with contempt for any authority but his own, the other an establishement man with a staunch military mindset are constantly frustrated by each other but mostly understand and even come to love each other.

4.The Ninth Doctor and Rose.

Awkward, driven lug who's lost everything in a terrible offscreen war falls in love with a human girl and recovers his love of life. Then dies.

5. The Tenth Doctor and Donna.

[strike]Shrill, annoying manchild[/strike] Lonely, hubristic hero with an ego the size of a planet is best friends with a bolshy harridian who will not put up with any of his shit.

I'm sure I've forgotten some, and before people start jumping on my head because I've forgotten their favourite companion I'd just like to point out that this is about the relationships between the characters rather than which companion is bestest. Tom Baker for example was very well served by some extremely well developed and acted companions but aside from Harry there isn't very much difference between the way he interacts with say... Leela and Romana. Probably down to Tom's belief that the role of companion could be well filled by a talking cabbage that sat on the Doctor's shoulder and had the plot explained to them.

So that little paragraph and a bit meandered around the point that the show has encompassed an enormous range of dynamics (and I am getting as pissed off with typing that word as you are with reading it) and if you've got any comments on your favourite set ups from the show's history then I'd be interested to hear them.

So the challenge when doing your fantasy series is to come up with a dynamic that won't be tediously familiar to the fans or boring to the casual watchers and to do your best to keep it in keeping with the show's history: a companion/doctor relationship based on their passionate sado-masochistic love affair and interest in nazi memrobillia for example would not sit right with me.

Lacking any capability for original thought I was stumped. Then a while ago I was watching another tv series that featured a brilliant hero who has a couple of close friends that help him in his adventures and I realised that the dynamic between this hero and one of his assistants would translate pretty well to Doctor Who.

That show is Monk. Think about it for a second - the Doctor is brilliant, several rungs of intelligence smarter than even the smartest human being and he's unarguably a good person - having dedicated his life to battling evil wherever he finds it rather than shrugging and pissing off back to the TARDIS - but you can bet your life that if you knew any of him in real life there would be moments when you'd find him bloody irritating. All of his personalities - even the ones generally remembered as the 'Nice Ones' - can be selfish, rude and self absorbed. Just like Monk.

Now Sharona recognises that Monk is several galaxies smarter than she is, but she does not let him get away with bad behaviour and frequently bullies, cajoles and browbeats him. Monk isn't a show that's really big on character development but certain episodes do show the real affection between the two characters as well so we're never left wondering why Sharona doesn't just piss off if she finds her boss so annoying. Ok, I know that's eventually exactly what she did but that was more down to Bitty Schram's contract dispute than anything else. In short Sharona and Monk have a relationship not a million miles from annoying younger brother and irritated older sister.

And I think that if any sane woman travelled with the Doctor for any length of time that's probably how things would end up.